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Title II, Net Neutrality, and the Struggle for Balance in Broadband Regulation: A Policy Forum

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - 10:30am
Georgetown's metro-accessible downtown location at 640 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001


It’s baaack – the return this year, for the fourth or fifth time, of noisy public debates over “net neutrality.” These distracting and seemingly unresolvable fights not only keep regulators from completing urgent reforms, but also have been shown to unsettle public markets, stalling investment just when it is needed most.

In the search for a long-term solution to all of these problems, it’s worth taking a step back to ask: How did we get here? 
The short answer is the lack of clear Congressional guidance on how and by whom the internet is to be regulated. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, the last major piece of legislation to address the subject, only waved in the direction of the internet, then just beginning its public life. But since then, the internet has grown explosively, swallowing every other network including regulated voice, video, and data services, launching along the way dozens of billion dollar enterprises and a mobile revolution still in progress. Over the last 20 years, the information economy, carried on the back of the internet, has become the central driver of growth for industries far afield of communications and media. 
This convergence and expansion has left regulators and the federal courts scrambling to figure out who, how, and whether to regulate, generating both gaps and conflicts that have complicated a tangle of new and old rules. Given the messy debates that have become central to the current impasse, it is important to cut through the rhetorical excess and confusion that have stymied progress to date. On July 12, 2017, the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy and a group of experts in both the history of internet regulation and current efforts to reform it had a rich discussion of how we got here and what, if any, straightforward lessons emerged for the future of internet regulation. The discussion opened with a question-and-answer session between Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (remarks begin at 05:47) and Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy Executive Director John Mayo (remarks begin at 00:10) during which Commissioner O’Rielly shared his perspective as a staffer working on the Telecommunications Act of 1996. 
The panel discussion was moderated by Larry Downes, Project Director and Senior Industry and Innovation Fellow, Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. The panel of experts included:
  • Timothy J. Brennan, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and former FCC chief economist  (remarks begin at 07:36
  • Harold Furchtgott-Roth, Director, Center for the Economics of the Internet, Hudson Institute, and former FCC commissioner (remarks begin at 05:16
  • Jonathan Spalter, President and Chief Executive Officer, USTelecom  (remarks begin at 9:59